THE ART OF ASKING QUESTIONS
What time is it?
What do you think about this project?
Can you support this decision?
What can I do to help you?
How would you deal with this problem?
What’s your objective?
How do you feel about this?
The world is full of questions – good questions, silly questions, important questions, and offensive questions. Questions can build rapport and trust or foster suspicion and dislike. Questions can open up a conversation or slam it closed. Questions can generate information or send the conversation shooting off on a tangent. Questions are the heart of communication. They pump fresh life into conversations.
Asking good questions is particularly important in organizations where working together to achieve a common purpose depends upon the members of the organizations understanding, each other clearly. Asking questions about how things are done why they’re done, who’s responsible for doing them, and when they’re due form the basis of organizational effectiveness. Imagine launching a new product, putting together a budget, improving, a process implementing a new policy, or reviewing employee performance without asking. The Information Age couldn’t exist without questions.
Why Do We Ask Questions?
The standard response to that question is “because we want to kow something.” But questioning has a much richer payoff than just information transfer. Questions are the heart of any information gathering process. But they can also be used for many other reasons. Here are just a few of the reasons we ask questions:
· To gain information- information ransfer depends on questions. Who, what, where, when, why, how, how much are all staples of information gathering.
· To stimulate conversation – Imagine attending a social function where no one can ask a question! No: How are you? Have You heard …? Did you see>>? Can you believe…? What do you think…? It would be a pretty strange gathering.
· To gain the other’s views-When you need to know what someone else is thinking, ask. What do you think about …? Can you tell me how you feel about …?
· To check agreement – What does the other person think about what you have discussed? Do you think we’re on the right track? Can you support this decision? Are we in agreement ? Do you have any objections? How does this sound to you?
· To build rapport and trust – Tapport and thus are built by showing support for the other person’s goals and objectives. How can I help you? What can I do to help you meet your objectives? What would you like to accomplish? Tell me about your goals/ dreams/ objectives.
· To verify information – Sometimes what you hear is not what was meant. Asking for feedback is a critical part of the communication process. Did I understand you to mean …? Can I summarize this as?
The Two Major Types of Questions
There are only two basic types of questions – closed and open.
Each type is very important to the communication process.
Close Questions:Closed questions are generally simple, information-gathering questions. Response to a closed question is usually a “yes” or “no” or a very vrief answer. Typical closed questions are:
· What time is it?
· Did you finish the project?
· Are you going to the meeting?
· Can you work overtime tonight?
· When did you first discover the problem?
Close questions perform the following functions:
· They allow specific facts to be gathered.
What color do you prefer?
· They are easy to answer and seldom intimidating.
Will you be finished by 5.00 p.m.?
· They are useful in the feedback process where someone wants to check the accuracy or completeness of the communication.
Have I got the information right?
· They can be used to gain commitment to position.
Does this seem right so far?
· They can be used to reinforce positive statements.
This seems like a good plan, doesn’t it?
· They can be used to direct the conversation to a desired topic or concern.
Do you have time to talk about the budget?
Open Questions: Open questions generally stimulate longer, more complex answers. Open questions are used to draw out a wide range of responses on a broad topic. They often ask for opinions, thoughts, or feelings. Typical open questions are:
· How did you feel about the meeting?
· What could we do to make this project better?
· How can we meet out objectives?
· What’s your opinion on the new marketing plan?
· How important is it to you?
Open questions have the following characteristics:
· They cannot be answered by a simple “yes” or “no.”
How do you think we could make this process work better?
Not: Do you think we could do this process better?
· They usually begin with “what” or “how.”
What do you think about the new benefit policy?
· They do not lead the answer.
Where could we make improvements in the new marketing plan?
Not: How much do you like our neat new marketing plan?
· They draw out ideas and feelings.
How do you feel about the reorganization of the department?
· They encourage elaboration on objectives, needs, wants, and problems.
Tell me what you think about the new employee review system.
· They promote self discovery.
How do you think the new process will work for your group?
· They stimulate thinking about not into your ideas.
Where do you think we night run into problems with this idea?
· They allow a broad range of responses and styles.
How would you change the policy?
It’s important to know: which kind of question – open or closed – to use to achieve your goals. Both are useful and can help you achieve several different purposes including:
· Fact-finding – If you are looking for specific information and data, use closed questions that ask for the detail you need.
“What did you accomplish on the project?” will generate more detail than “Did you get a lot done?” Take notes and verify that you understood the information correctly.
· Feeling – Finding – To understand a person’s feeling about a subject generally requires an open question. Are you happy about the project? Doesn’t get the same response as the open-ended question: How do you feel about the project? Used properly, feeling - finding questions generate a lot of information about attitudes, convections, and motivations. Feeling finding questions are extremely powerful because they are so seldom asked, and the answers are listened to carefully even less frequently.
· Clarifying – Closed questions are used to verify your understanding of conversation. Do I understand you correctly…? Are you referring to …? Do you mean …? Are examples of questions you can ask to make sure you understand the information being given to you?
· Expanding – Open questions are used to draw out further information on a topic. Can you give me an example? Would you tell me more about that point? What else might be causing a problem? Are questions that continue to generate information about the subject?
· Directing – Directing questions are generally closed and point the conversation toward a particular goal. What was the other point you wanted to make? Can we go back and talk about your first item? Couldn’t we postpone the decision for a week? With these questions, you want to direct the conversation to a different topic or to lead the person to a particular decision.
One of the most fundamental questioning techniques is to start with broad, open questions and build on the speaker’s responses by asking narrower, more specific questions. This is called the funnel technique. It’s like painting a picture. You start with a blank canvas and begin filling in the background with broad-brush strokes. Gradually you add more and more detail until you have a complete picture. With questions, you start out at the top of the funnel with a broad question and then as you move down the funnel, you “paint with a finer brush” – by asking closed questions that demand more exact answers – and fill in the details.
With the funnel technique, you actually begin exploring the other person’s needs and expectations, problems, and opportunities by using your questioning and listening skills. You start with, “Tell me about your business” or “ What are your long-range goals in this position?” or “What’s important to you?” A typical computer sales person might ask a prospect what kind of computer system he currently has or what his computer needs are. The hotshot salesperson who has learned the funnel technique starts out by asking about the prospect’s business or operation. A manager trying to locate the cause of recurring problem could say, “Why does this switch deep failing?” An artful questioning manager would start on a broader level saying something like, “Tell me about the overall process that surrounds the switch. A supervisor trying to deal with a tardy employee could ask why the employee is late again. Or he could sit down with the employee and ask, “How are you feeling about your job?” Broad brush questions give you a lot of information about the situation, including important clues as to where to direct more specific follow-up questions, and give the other person a chance to relax and tell you what he thinks is important.
Broad, open-ended questions show your interest in the other person’s situation. They often start with “Tell me,” “how,” “who,” “what,” or “why.” They are much more powerful than closed questions that require a simple answer such as “yes” or “no” or a specific piece of information. After the broad question opens the conversation and begins to build rapport, the artiful questioner builds on the responses and increases his understanding of the information being transferred. Our computer salesperson might have a client who says, “I need more control over our order system.” He then builds on that response by asking a question, using the most important words in the answer… control and order system. For instance, he might ask, “what aspects of your order system would you like to have more control over?” or “Could you tell me more about your order system?” When the client responds, he builds jis next question around the response to that question, and so on.
The broad, open questions at the top of the funnel are easy for the speaker to answer. They give the speaker the freedom to tell you whatever be wants. By the time you get to the more specific questions, he can see where you’re heading with your questions and he’ll be willing to share more information with you. Not only that, most people’s level of trust and willingness to share information is related directly to how much information they have previously shared. Here are some general strategies to help you formulate your questions.
1. Have a plan- Know what you want to accomplish and what type of questions you will need to use. You don’t have to have the questions written not in advance, but you should be clear about your objectives.
2. Keep the question simple – It’s vest to ask for one answer of a time. A question like: What do you think about the marketing plan and will the new ad campaign confuse customers and would that confusion actually be beneficial to the long-term product growth? will not produce a meaningful answer. If you ask a two-part question, people tend to either answer the second part only or only the part they were interested in or felt safe with. One question at a time!
3. Stay focused – Keep the questions on track and follow a topic to its conclusion. Any question that starts with By the way …is probably going off on a tangent. Hold the question for later.
4. Be nonthreatening – Trust is a key essential in communication. The wrong question can quickly destroy trust and the relationship. Why didn’t you…? How could you …? Aren’t you …? These are all questions that generally make people defensive. Once someone throws up a wall of defense, the opportunity for exchanging information and building a relationship goes away.
5. Ask permission – If the area of questioning is sensitive, explain the need for the questions and ask permission before proceeding. The application requires some detail about your financial condition. Would you mind answering …?
6. Avoid ambiguity – Ambiguous questions generate ambiguous answers. Could you support the budget? Does not tell you whether the person would support it.
7. Avoid manipulation – Keep the relationship as a primary focus. Tricking someone into giving you an answer you want destroy trust and rapport. Would you prefer to work overtime tonight or tomorrow night? Does not give a person the chance to say that he doesn’t want to work overtime at all. Explaining the need for the overtime and asking if he’s available has a totally different feel. Manipulation is an attempt to take away a person’s control.
Mastering the art of asking questions will help you gain the information you need, build trust, stimulate the views and opinions of others, and verify information.
transfered from/The New Art of Managing People - Phil Hunsaker & Tony Alessandra